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Athletes likely to have higher levels of PFAS after play on artificial turf

Athletes who play on artificial turf are likely to be coated with higher levels of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” than before playing on the field, new research suggests, raising more questions about the controversial material’s safety.

All artificial turf is made with what public health advocates say is dangerous levels of PFAS. When the highly mobile chemicals break off from plastic grass blades, they can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, ingested or get in open wounds.

The results from the small study, which looked at levels on the skin of several six-year-old soccer players and their coach, are preliminary, its authors stressed. However, the findings point to what many scientists have feared – artificial turf presents a health threat, said Kyla Bennett, a study co-author with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility non-profit.

“In 2024, the last thing we should be doing is putting down acres of a plastic fossil fuel product … with chemicals that are going to get all over athletes’ skin, and into soil and water,” Bennett said. “It just boggles my mind that people are still considering using this stuff.”

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 15,000 chemicals often used to make products resist water, stain and heat. The compounds are linked to cancer, liver problems, thyroid issues, birth defects, kidney disease, decreased immunity and other serious health problems.

Artificial turf is made with several layers including plastic grass blades, plastic backing that holds the blades in place and infill that weighs down the turf to help blades stand upright. Industry has said the grass blades and backing cannot be made without PFAS.

This article was published by The Guardian on Sat 16th March 2024. CLICK here to read the full article

Synthetic Grass Problems Revealed

TEC’s AUSMAP research into rubber crumb, a recycled granulate (<5mm) made from end-of-life tyres which is used as infill for synthetic turf fields and for playground surfaces, is attracting attention. It’s a collaborative effort with a northern Sydney council aiming to address current
knowledge gaps in relation to the loss of rubber crumb and synthetic grass blades, and the effectiveness of existing stormwater mitigation traps, at a synthetic sports field in Sydney’s north-west.

With over 180 synthetic sports fields in NSW alone, the loss of microplastics from these surfaces represents a significant waste stream into the environment. Moreover, a lack of current regulations for stormwater infrastructure, and limited community awareness, has contributed to ill-informed management of this worsening pollution problem. Despite growing concerns regarding the safety of rubber crumb, which has known toxic and carcinogenic properties, Australian studies and regulations on these materials remain in their infancy.

The study assessed the loss and capture of microplastics from the sports field, and preliminary results have highlighted that up to 70,000 particles of rubber crumb and over 50,000 particles of synthetic grass have been captured in a single trap sample

AUSMAP submitted these early findings to Penny Sharpe, NSW Minister for Environment, and Paul Scully, Minister for
Planning. We called for:

  1. a five-year moratorium on synthetic turf fields,
  2. minimum pollution mitigation measures,
  3. improved resilience techniques for natural turf fields, and
  4. substantial investment on research to address key knowledge gaps highlighted in the NSW Chief Scientist’s Report (CSE) on Synthetic

This came hot on the heels of AUSMAP’s recent presentation of evidence to the Federal Inquiry
into plastic pollution in Australia’s oceans and waterways, by Project Director Dr Michelle Blewitt
and Science Research Officer Juniper Riordan

This article was published in the Total Environment Centre Newsletter | 2023 Issue 2.

Rolled up: is synthetic turf on Australian sports fields worth the environmental risk?

It’s durable, resilient and lower-maintenance than natural grass – but there are still many downsides and unknowns to artificial turf

Two years ago the Northern Beaches council replaced the worn-out synthetic turf from a council oval, replacing natural grass with the product sometimes known as astroturf. The council had included in its contract a requirement that it be recycled and not sent to landfill – but federal legislation passed in 2020 meant that it was more difficult to export plastic waste to overseas facilities.

A permit was not granted, so the rolls of old turf sat for nearly 18 months until they were removed earlier this year. They are now in a container in a railway siding, awaiting the completion of a recycling plant capable of separating the various components that make up the product.

The challenges of what to do with worn-out artificial turf, combined with growing concern about microplastics and the likelihood of more extreme weather events, make for a complex debate about its use in Australia. The Alliance for Natural Turf – 16 community groups concerned about artificial turf – has asked the NSW government for a 5-year moratorium on rolling out the product.

They say NSW should employ precautionary principles, warning little is known about the long-term impacts of the microplastics and chemicals that it could shed – including forever chemicals perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS chemicals.

In June this year, the NSW government finally released a report by the chief scientist, Hugh Durrant-Whyte, that concluded there were significant environmental impacts from artificial turf but stopped short of recommending a ban. It estimated there were now 181 playing fields using artificial turf in NSW, up from 24 in 2014.

The main concern was potential plastic pollution. Most synthetic sports fields in NSW feature long synthetic blades supported by infill; the most commonly used infill is styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) crumbs sourced from recycled tyres.

The SBR crumb is the material most associated with community concerns about contamination. But the chief scientist says there is insufficient information and a lack of standards about the materials and chemical composition of the synthetic turf itself.

“Expert advice to the review estimated that a synthetic turf field without structures to reduce infill loss will wash tens to hundreds of kilograms of infill per year into stormwater systems or waterways,” the report states.

“The amount of turf fibres lost from a synthetic turf field is likely to be in the hundreds of kilograms per year, with the amount increasing for fields near the end of life or under poor maintenance.”

One of the big drivers of increasing installation of artificial turf is population density and increased demands on sporting grounds.

“All councils in Sydney face increasing demand for more sports fields to meet the needs of [a] growing participation in sport,” Sue Heins, the mayor of the Northern Beaches, says.

Northern Beaches council manages 127 sports fields. Six of these are synthetic and allow almost double the playing time of natural grass.

“These new surfaces are more resilient and unlike natural turf, they do not require returfing or weed control and can still be used in wet weather – meaning more play time,” Hein says.

“We have measures in place to prevent any environmental impact of these synthetic surfaces, such as using cork infill instead of rubber and ensuring old synthetic turfs are responsibly recycled at the end of their lifespan”.

Artificial turf is formed from soft plastic blades of ‘grass’ and rubber, which require special facilities to recycle. Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

But balanced against the more durable surfaces that artificial turf offers are concerns about heat island effects of the artificial product in cities. Unlike natural turf, which stays cool in the sun, artificial grass heats up quickly because it absorbs more solar radiation.

“It’s a material that, like polished metal slides, can cause severe burn injuries,” says Sebastian Pfautsch, an associate professor of urban management and planning at Western Sydney University.

His research has shown that synthetic turf in playgrounds can heat up to temperatures greater than 80C, even when the ambient temperature is less than 30C. Sometimes sprinkler systems are needed to cool the surface, which in part defeats the water savings associated with artificial turf.

A spokesperson for Sydney’s Inner West council, which has four synthetic fields, says it uses an organic infill to help reduce the heat during hot weather. It was also aiming to plant more trees to reduce the heat island effect.

Following the restrictions on exporting plastic waste, Australian artificial grass manufacturer Tuff Turf has partnered with Sustainability Victoria to build a recycling plant at Barnawartha, near the Victoria-NSW border.

Re4orm is due to open early next year, and according to its director, Trent Cummings, some 2m square metres of artificial turf from Sydney playing fields will be replaced in the next six to eight year.

The purpose-built facility will separate the turf into individual components, reducing waste to landfill and significantly decreasing the C02 emissions released in landfill, Cummings says.

The first stage is to separate the sand, crumb (usually rubber) and “gunk” from the plastic matting. The sand and rubber is then cleaned for reuse.

The mat is then shaved of the grass blades so the plastic grass can be melted down into polyurethane pellets and stabiliser, which can be used in products such as boards for landscaping and seats.

Cummings says Re4orm’s service will work on all synthetic turf. The backing, which makes up about 3-4% of the weight of the product, is more complex, but will also be recycled into latex and other plastics.

“We need the government to do more research to create products using recycled material,” says Cummings.

Most of the shockpads underneath the turf are now imported, but there is no reason why it can’t be made here using recycled inputs, he says.

The old artificial turf from the Northern Beaches will be one of the first artificial surfaces to be put through Re4orm’s process. But in the meantime, councils are likely to face increasing questions from their communities about the environmental safety of the product.

This article was first published in The Guardian on 28th October 2023. Click here to view the original article

What are the effects of flood waters on synthetic turf fields?

This article was posted at blog.sportsend.com.au

With unprecedented rain events over the past 6 months, in New South Wales and Queensland, synthetic grass fields and courts have been affected to varying degrees. In the worst cases, fields have been made unplayable, requiring complete re-builds, while other facilities have been left with extensive cleanup projects.

What have we learnt and what can we take away from the results of the effects of recent flood events?

Quite often our sports fields/courts are constructed in low-lying, flood-prone areas (due to these sites not being suitable for property development).

Thus, knowing that at some stage through the life of the facility, it will be subject to flooding, we can design to mitigate or minimize the damage floods will cause.

Flood damages for long pile synthetic grass fields

These surfaces have paid a heavy price in some instances where flood waters and in particular the velocity of the flood waters, have had major impacts on the surface, requiring some fields to be completely removed and a new surface re-laid at considerable costs.

Long pile synthetic grass fields require the sand infill to act as ballast and weight the field down, so there is no movement during use. The rubber or organic performance infill is the top layer of the system.

Flood waters can impact these fields in two main ways:

  • Flood waters rising above the perimeter edge of the field and flowing across the field. These waters bring contaminants onto the field, which filter down through the infill and sit within the synthetic grass layer. The contaminants ( ie silts, mud, organic material etc. ) need to be removed once the flood event has passed, which can require all the infill to be removed and replaced.
  • Some of the infills can be lifted by the water and be carried with the flood waters off the field. Thus additional infill material is required and the field will need to be re- groomed to the correct levels.
  • In extreme cases, the speed at which flood waters travel across the field, can flow underneath the synthetic grass and lift the entire system, grass and infill, and push/wrinkle the synthetic grass. In these cases, it is very difficult to pull the grass back into position without damaging the grass. The synthetic grass will often have to be removed from the site and new grass and infill installed.
  • Flood waters backing back up through the external stormwater system and back into the field stormwater system. The stormwater water from the rainfall event is unable to discharge from the field and starts to back up through the synthetic grass and ponds on the surface.

As a result, some of the infills may be carried off the field at the low end and will be replaced and the field re-groomed.

What are the possible solutions for mitigating flood damages on long pile synthetic grass fields?

  • Design fields with upstands around fields, which are above the High Water Level of storm event being considered. The aim is to divert flood waters around the field. Also, having a raised upstand provides a retention volume to keep infill within the field of play.
  • Provide grated pits downstream of the field stormwater system, to allow stormwater that is backing up in the system to surcharge before entering back under the field.
  • Design of vertically draining pavements, to allow for retention of stormwater within the field.

Flood damages for short pile synthetic grass fields/courts

Short pile synthetic grass is generally used for Hockey fields, Tennis Courts and Multi-use courts. These surfaces are generally weight down with sand infill, to hold the surface in place.

Flood waters have similar impacts as with long piles, contaminants are deposited over the surface, as flood waters pass over the top surface and potentially move the grass surface or disturb the underlying base pavement.

The main impact flood waters can impact on these fields/courts is flood waters rising above the perimeter edge of the field and flowing across the field/court. These waters bring contaminants onto the field, which filter down through the infill and sit within the synthetic grass layer. The contaminants (ie silts, mud, organic material etc) can be removed with high-pressure water cleaning. A majority of the sand infill will also be removed during the cleaning process and will need new sand to be installed to the correct levels.

If the synthetic grass surface is not glued around the perimeter, there is the risk of flood waters moving at speed across the surface, can enter under the grass and causing damage to the underlying base pavement (Crushed rock, Asphalt or Concrete).

If the surface is laid on crushed rock, the rock surface can be scoured, leaving the surface with depressions and ridges. The synthetic grass surface will need to be removed and the base regraded and compacted.

With synthetic grass laid on asphalt or concrete, the flood waters can leave silts and mud behind on the asphalt or concrete pavement. Again the synthetic grass will need to be removed, to allow the contaminates to be pressure washed off the surface and then the grass re-laid.

With Hockey Fields / Courts, stormwater is moved horizontally across the surface to an external stormwater drainage system, thus is unlikely to be affected by water backing up in the stormwater system. In general, there is no internal subsurface drainage system within the field or courts, thus no risk of contamination returning through the external system.

Short pile sand-filled synthetic turf Field of Play surface being damaged by floodShort pile sand-filled synthetic turf Field of Play surface being damaged by flood

What are the possible solutions for mitigating flood damages on short pile synthetic grass fields/courts?

  • Design fields/courts with upstands around the perimeter, which is above the High Water Level of storm event being considered. The aim is to divert flood waters around the field and also provides a retention volume to keep infill within the field of play.
  • Provide grated pits downstream of the field stormwater system, to allow stormwater that is backing up in the system to surcharge before entering back under the field.
  • Adhere/glue the synthetic grass to concrete perimeter edges, to prevent flood waters from entering beneath the surface.

Cool grass, hot grass

An article by Elizabeth Farrelly | 4th July 2023 | ArchitectureAU | Click here to view the article

Elizabeth Farrelly considers an under-acknowledged modernist ally – grass – and how the lazy overuse of synthetic substitutes is leading to overheating, increased toxicity and degradation of the natural and urban environments.

Grass, as a species, is overused, downtrodden and wildly under-acknowledged. Its velvety coolness underfoot as the earth gently exhales on a cicada-spangled evening is just one of its astonishing properties. Now, grass is back in the news – but it’s not the familiar debate over cow-fart. This time, it’s that time-honoured question of whether nature or technology knows best. If nature plays difficult, should we just go ahead and fake it?

Last week, the New South Wales government finally released the chief scientist’s long-awaited report on the dangers of synthetic turf. The report stopped short of recommending a ban on synthetic turf containing toxic “forever chemicals,” as in California and elsewhere, but it did raise significant concerns.

At a meta level, you’d think our species’ lazy and lamentable history of substituting the synthetic for the natural might give us pause. Consider, for example, errors of overreach like industrial food (with its links to epidemic obesity), chemical pesticides (with their links to cancer and bee death) and the replacement of breast milk with formula.

Small, [grass] underpins our food chain, turning sunlight into nutrients. Tall, as bamboo up to 30 metres high, it has the strength and suppleness required for scaffolding and structure.

Yet, the use of synthetic turf – or “astroturf” – is skyrocketing. The chief scientist’s report notes a six-fold increase in four years, from 30 synthetic sports fields in New South Wales in 2018 to around 181 in 2022. (In fact, that count is probably conservative, since it excludes sports like lawn bowls and the growing deployment of synthetic turf in schools and private homes.) Other states are no doubt folowing a similar trajectory.

Before considering the evils of astroturf, though, let’s consider the goodness of natural grass. Grass is versatile. Small, it underpins our food chain, turning sunlight into nutrients. Tall, as bamboo up to 30 metres high, it has the strength and suppleness required for scaffolding and structure. As ground cover, it nurtures an elegant unseen symbiosis with the microbiome, feeding with special sugars the microbes that supply it with absorbable phosphates and other nutrients.

At a symbolic level, grass has long offered egalitarian metaphors – from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass poetry collection (1855) to the idea of “grassroots democracy,” which plays on both its uniformity and its connective underground resilience.

Mostly, though, we in the suburb-ocene consider grass a servant species, both subject and agent in our dominion over nature. In Manet’s 1863 painting Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), the grass mediates between the sombre, serge-clad commerciality of the men – serious and work-minded – and the woman’s stark white flesh. As nature tamed, grass-as-lawn manifests man’s power to dominate nature and woman, both.

The city would never have been vacated for business had not the entire act of dwelling been sent centrifugally to grass. So perhaps, as both tool and threat, grass was always a candidate for modernism’s competitiveness, its determination to not only dominate nature but outdo her.

This tension between dominance and subversion made grass a modern favourite, yet its potency remains under-acknowledged. Quite as much as steel and concrete, grass was the enabling material of modernity. The city would never have been vacated for business had not the entire act of dwelling been sent centrifugally to grass. So perhaps, as both tool and threat, grass was always a candidate for modernism’s competitiveness, its determination to not only dominate nature but outdo her. Now, grass is seen as little more than an outdoor flooring material. I’m reminded of that old joke about husbands and carpet tiles: lay it properly the first time and you can walk all over it forever.

Which brings us neatly to the idea of faking it. Astroturf, first manufactured in the US in 1966, was always considered the ultimate kitsch. Sadly, we’ve lost those inhibitions and artificial turf is very much on the rise in sports fields across the country. This push is driven by supposedly practical considerations of cost and wear. But how practical is it, actually, to invest in a product whose environmental impacts include water contamination, biodiversity loss, canopy loss, soil death and intensified urban heat? And all this in the face of climate change!

Synthetic grass comprises several layers: the plastic blades, then a layer of infill – most commonly rubber crumb made from old tyres, but sometimes cork – set into a waterproof membrane. Tyres are not manufactured in Australia, meaning we have little or no control over the chemicals contained therein. But rubber crumb – which is used in “safe” children’s playgrounds and sports surfaces as well as synthetic turf – contains heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs, called “forever chemicals” because they hardly degrade in the natural environment) and other nasties. It is known to leach zinc, rubber polymers and vulcanizing chemicals, including the fabulously named N-(1,3-Dimethylbutyl)-N’-phenyl-p-phenylenediamine-quinone and other toxins that, together, have given rise to the “urban runoff mortality syndrome” observed in salmon exposed to untreated stormwater.

The teeming microbiome dies, leading to soil compaction and root death in nearby trees, which causes more biodiversity loss and shade depletion, and further accelerates degradation of the synthetic materials, intensifying the toxic runoff.

This leachate is marginally less toxic where cork is used as an infill instead of rubber. But in either case, the increased breakdown caused by both Australia’s intense UV radiation, and the extreme heat and rain events associated with climate change, can only accelerate the degradation and subsequent contamination. The fact that Australia’s sporting fields are usually treeless and unshaded, and often located on marginal land that is especially prone to flooding, only exacerbates this. The chief scientist – with input from 24 other highly credentialled academics – estimates that a single Australian synthetic sporting field will generate, per year, 10–100 kilograms of rubber-crumb pollution and hundreds of kilograms of microplastic pollution in the form of lost grass blades.

Then there’s soil death. Synthetic turf’s waterproof layer, pierced only by horizontal or vertical drainage mechanisms, leaves the soil beneath profoundly parched. The teeming microbiome dies, leading to soil compaction and root death in nearby trees, which causes more biodiversity loss and shade depletion, and further accelerates degradation of the synthetic materials, intensifying the toxic runoff.

More dangerous still is the heat. Australia is getting hotter faster than most of the world. Sebastian Pfautsch, an associate professor at Western Sydney University and an expert in urban heat, says that by 2050–60, we could experience three months of days above 35 degrees Celsius. Already, air temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius in some parts of Sydney. Far from cooling its surrounds as natural grass does, synthetic turf can be several degrees hotter than the ambient temperature, increasing heat-stress on both people and the already degraded soil.

The arguments for synthetic turf hinge on cost of maintenance and intensity of use. But need it be quite so intense? Soil scientist and sports turf specialist Nick Battam notes that, given standard hours of work and school, it is rare for sports field demand to exceed 40 hours per week. And if the usage is any higher, the lifespan of synthetic turf is reduced, raising significant questions about the disposal and recycling of these toxic ingredients, not to mention the cost and embodied energy of replacement. This cost is significant and tends to result in councils barring public access. (Nobody wants doggy-do and chip papers on their expensive plastic grass.) And then there’s the smell, the outgassing, the fungicides used to kill the greeblies that breed in the infill layer …

Rather than offering public land for private development, as the premier of New South Wales Chris Minns proposes, surely it would be better to use such public land to ensure that the necessary densification of our cities is accompanied by enough natural green space. When fully hydrated, properly shaded and equipped with water-recycling and planting programs, such spaces enhance local cooling, biodiversity and carbon absorption. And that’s in addition to the mental and physical health benefits of biophilia. I think it’s called long-term public benefit. Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

Turf wars: The courtroom battle over artificial turf safety may be closer than we think

This article was posted by Jennifer Steinmetz and Lucy Richman | July 6, 2023 | Reuters. Click here to view article

Many may remember a dramatic moment from the 2022 Super Bowl, when star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a serious non-contact knee injury while catching a pass. Beckham Jr. took the following season off to recover, and his injuries reignited a longstanding debate about the safety of artificial turf fields. Many National Football League (NFL) players and their supporters took to social media, speaking out against turf and supporting a campaign, #FlipTheTurf, to pressure NFL teams to switch from turf fields to grass.

Artificial turf has long been used in sports as a replacement to natural grass. This alternative has both practical and cost-saving benefits as it does not need sunlight or water, so it can be used year-round in enclosed stadiums.

Turf consists of three components: (1) plastic grass blades bundled into individual “tufts;” (2) a backing material to which the tufts are attached; and (3) an adhesive used to secure the tufts to the backing. The turf is stabilized by the presence of “infill” — typically ground rubber or sand — placed between the artificial blades to provide added support.

As early as the 1970s, players’ observations and concerns about turf sparked research into its safety. A study by K. Douglas Bowers Jr. and R. Bruce Martin at the University of West Virginia in 1974 responded to players’ observations that their turf had gotten “harder” over the years and showed that the school’s turf field’s ability to absorb impact decreased over time. A 1992 study specifically focused on the relationship between turf fields and football injuries, finding a statistically significant increase in injuries in some, but not all, lower extremity injuries during games played on turf. John W. Powell and Mario Schootman, “A Multivariate Risk Analysis of Selected Playing Surfaces in the National Football League: 1980 to 1989,” 20 Am. J. Sports Med. 686 (1992).

Synthetic turf surfaces can be problematic because they do not create the same divot as natural grass and therefore lack the ability to release a cleat in a potentially injurious overload situation. Christina D. Mack, et al., “Higher Rates of Lower Extremity Injury on Synthetic Turf Compared With Natural Turf Among National Football League Athletes,” 47 Am. J. of Sports Med. 189, 192 (2019). This generates greater sheer force and torque on the foot and throughout the lower extremity, potentially contributing to increased injuries. Id.

As turf products have evolved over time, new research findings have followed. Some continue to find that turf is less safe for athletes than natural grass, while others find little to no difference, or even that turf has safety advantages over natural grass. What remains the same is that players and researchers alike continue questioning which surface is safer.

The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has taken a strong public stance against turf fields, advocating that “NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass.” J.C. Tretter, “Only Natural Grass Can Level the NFL’s Playing Field,” NFLPA, (last visited Jun. 28, 2023). In an April 2023 statement, the NFLPA accused the NFL of twisting historical injury data to support the NFL’s contention that turf fields are safe. J.C. Tretter, “Why the NFL’s Approach to Field Surfaces is Uneven,” NFLPA, Apr. 19, 2023.

In pushing back on the NFL’s reporting of synthetic turf safety data, the NFLPA cited to a recent study finding that “[p]lay on synthetic turf resulted in a 16% increase in injuries as compared with play on natural turf…across all lower extremity injuries resulting in any missed football participation.” Mack, et al., supra.

While some turf-safety studies appear to be independent, the Mack study was funded in part by the NFL. Some studies coming to opposite conclusions — that turf is as safe or safer than grass — have been funded in part by turf manufacturers or other professional organizations. Should the various studies ever be used for authority in litigation, their authors’ potential conflicts of interest may become a point of contention.

So when will the turf debate enter the courtroom? At least one turf manufacturer is already facing a number of lawsuits alleging that its product did not live up to durability or lifespan promises represented in advertising and marketing materials. See generally Consolidated Amended Class Action Compl., In re Fieldturf Artificial Turf Marketing and Sales Practices Litig., No. 3:17-md-2779 (D.N.J. Oct. 20, 2017). Counts against the manufacturer include fraud, breach of warranty and violation of consumer protection laws.

Given recent publicity and the NFLPA’s involvement in the issue, lawsuits claiming personal injury resulting from play on turf may be just around the corner. This could generate a mass of prospective plaintiff athletes just as we saw with the concussion litigation of years past. An August 2019 settlement required the NCAA to pay $70 million to fund concussion screens and testing for former college athletes, with an additional $5 million toward medical research. In October 2021, the NFL reached a $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players.

Plaintiffs alleging injuries from artificial surfaces can look to several potential target defendants including: (1) turf manufacturers; (2) companies that manufacture the various component parts of turf; and (3) turf purchasers, particularly high schools, universities and major sports franchises. Expected allegations would follow a traditional products liability model, involving counts for both design defect and failure to warn.

Certain elements of a turf field’s design may have an impact on safety, as noted in the Mack study above, in that they do not release a cleat in the same way as natural grass. Players may claim that turf manufacturers failed to design their fields to protect players from foreseeable lower extremity injuries, given the speed and force that high caliber athletes reach while practicing and competing. The availability of a feasible alternative design — natural grass — may also carry weight in some jurisdictions.

Failure to warn claims are also likely, particularly given that turf manufacturers tout safety — some including that their artificial turf is a safer alternative to grass — as a focus of their product development and as a key selling point.

Plaintiffs (and their counsel) will face a considerable challenge, however, identifying sound authority linking turf to non-contact lower extremity injuries. It may be that additional studies are necessary before waging litigation. Plaintiffs may also need to spend resources testing their theories and/or working up credible expert witnesses to back their allegations. Other contributing causes to the claimed injuries, such as a player’s weight or choice of footwear, may create additional obstacles for these plaintiffs.

The debate over the safety of artificial turf does not end with lower extremity injuries. A March 2023 report from the Philadelphia Inquirer recently publicized a possible link between glioblastoma, a rare brain cancer, and turf fields. David Gambacorta and Barbara Laker, “Field of Dread,” Phila. Inquirer, Mar. 12, 2023.

The connection follows the deaths of six former Philadelphia Phillies baseball players, all of whom died from glioblastoma after spending the majority of their careers playing for the Phillies. The Phillies played on a turf field from 1971 to 2003.

The Inquirer article points to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contained in artificial turf as a possible cause of cancer, noting that testing of samples from the old Phillies’ turf field found 16 different types of PFAS present in the turf. See Laker and Gambacorta, supra.

PFAS, referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are highly resistant to breakdown in the human body and environment, have been linked to a variety of serious health conditions including low birth weight, reduced immune response, liver damage and cancer. While evidence of PFAS in turf fields causing glioblastoma is only anecdotal at this point, plaintiffs’ lawyers have latched on to the Phillies story and are using it to solicit clients for “artificial turf cancer” litigation via firm websites and/or social media.

The effects of PFAS are already widely debated and litigated, including through the Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF) Products Liability Litigation (MDL No. 2873, District of South Carolina). In June 2023, four defendants in that litigation reached settlements of over $11 billion related to claims that PFAS chemicals contaminated drinking water around the country. This type of result (and publicity) may pave the way for PFAS claims related to artificial turf, and it seems as though plaintiffs’ lawyers already have an eye on it.

One thing is clear — the dispute over the safety of artificial turf is not going away. Further studies are needed to better understand the potential health effects surrounding turf fields and, until we have more clarity, plaintiffs are going to face an uphill battle. On the other hand, as many know, the courtroom sometimes becomes a place where the seeds of science are tested. And with the public voice of the NFLPA speaking out and inspiring other injured athletes to do the same, litigation may be closer than we think.

The environmental impacts of artificial turf worth considering before rolling it out

By Penny Travers | 5th July 2023 | ABC News | Click here to view the article

With your lawn turning brown from the winter frost and an El Nino weather event on the horizon, you may find yourself considering artificial turf to keep your lawn or front verge looking green.

It’s an increasingly popular choice, particularly in newer suburbs where block sizes are smaller.

But while synthetic grass offers an even, green surface that requires little maintenance, it comes with a big environmental price tag.

Here are some of the environmental impacts of artificial turf worth considering before you roll it out in your own backyard.

Burning hot in summer

In summer, fake turf gets hot. Very hot. So hot in fact, that Sebastian Pfautsch, an associate professor in urban management and planning at Western Sydney University, warns the surface can give babies and young children “second or third-degree burns”.

Associate Professor Pfautsch was one of more than 30 experts who contributed to an independent review of the impacts of synthetic turf in public open spaces by the New South Wales chief scientist and engineer.

“This material on a sunny day, with let’s say 30 degrees Celsius in the sun unshaded, will be about 80 to 90 degrees hot,” he said.

“Compare that to natural turf, which will be just slightly above the temperature, meaning slightly above 30 degrees.

Not only can it be burning hot to touch, fake turf also radiates heat, making you and your home hotter.

“You get radiant heat so your thermal comfort is impacted negatively and then you also have, from the combination of the sensible heat flux and the warmer air temperatures, warmer air around your home,” Associate Professor Pfautsch said.

“That means your whole house is warmer, your walls are warmer, your windows are warmer, everything is warmer, the air intake for your air conditioning system is warmer — you need more energy to cool that down.

The heat impact goes beyond just having a warmer microclimate around your home.

“You may think it’s only me having a bit of synthetic turf but it’s now 20 other neighbours and then of course, when you add this, it has a collective impact on your suburb microclimate where it gets warmer,” Associate Professor Pfautsch said.

“Collectively the whole suburb will be warmer which has impacts on night-time temperatures, but also on the environment where certain critters just need certain temperatures and certain plants need certain evolutions of day-night temperatures.

Unsustainable life cycle

As the name suggests, synthetic turf comprises of synthetic fibres typically made from nylon or polypropylene and connected to a backing material, all of which came from crude oil.

The lifespan of artificial turf depends on how it’s installed, maintained and used, but it tends to be about 10 years, though some manufacturers of newer products say it can last upwards of two decades.

When it does reach the end of its useful life, unlike some other plastics, artificial turf is difficult to recycle due to contaminations, colours and stabilisers within the material.

“What we’re finding in the US, is a lot of the artificial turf that is being replaced with other surfaces is just ending up in landfill which is not a good end for these products,” John Ting, Assistant Professor at the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Arts and Design, said.

“In terms of the life cycle for these kinds of plastic, it is not really a very sustainable thing.

“Whereas things like tiles, or stone paving, or concrete, even gravel, a lot of that can actually be incorporated into other materials or can actually be recycled themselves.”

Professor Mark Howden, director of the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University, says the greenhouse gas component also needs to be considered.

“Normal grass can absorb a bit of carbon, compare that with artificial grass or asphalt or concrete, those latter ones have a big greenhouse gas footprint,” he said.

Microplastics in waterways

While there is a wide range of artificial turf products on the market with varying composition and durability, synthetic fibres can break off and end up in waterways, especially in periods of heavy rainfall.

“Because they come into contact with feet, because people walk over them and so forth, and because they’re out in the weather, what we tend to get is bits of plastic that are actually falling off the artificial grass itself and getting into our waterways,” Assistant Professor Ting said.

Infill is usually spread over the turf to help the grass blades stand up and keep the turf flat.

In backyards, that infill is often silica sand which has sharp edges that can contribute to the grass blades breaking off.

Granulated rubber or crumb rubber, usually made from old car tyres, is also used as an infill — particularly on sporting fields.

“That just cries for disaster,” Associate Professor Pfautsch said.  “Now you’re not only having the natural disintegration of the green material, but you’ve introduced something that’s even smaller and loose that just goes everywhere. “You can find this material, many, many, many metres away from the fields in parks where it’s just piling up. It just starts to wander off.

“And there are studies in that report … that describe the impact of that on aquatic environments because it starts to enter the food chain.”

Lack of biodiversity

Artificial turf doesn’t just impact the environment above the ground, but also the carbon in the soil and the living systems below.

“Artificial turf doesn’t have an ecology like grass does,” Assistant Professor Ting said.

“All sorts of microbes, insects and other things actually live in the grass and in the soil around the grass.

“Natural grass and planted matter does actually promote biodiversity and does give back to the soil and make it stronger, more fertile and so on. Artificial grass doesn’t allow this to happen.”

Associate Professor Pfautsch describes synthetic turf as a biodiversity “blocker”.

“Once you start reducing the gas exchange between the atmosphere and the soil it has a huge impact on all the soil fauna, the critters that live in the soil, which is a huge storage of carbon,” he said.

“All of that is lost because you’re basically cutting off their supply pipelines for gas exchange.”

Lawn alternatives

The good news is there are some natural alternatives to artificial turf that don’t necessarily require the time and effort of a well-manicured traditional lawn and still look pleasant during dry times.

“Native Australian grasses make wonderful turfs. You can even let that flower before you mow it and that comes with biodiversity benefits,” associate professor Pfautsch said.

“There will be insects that will be attracted to that, that also then, when you look at food chains, attract birds, attract this and attract that.”

A side path of a house with a gate, with stepping stones surrounded by leafy green and small purple flowers

For those who don’t want to maintain a natural lawn, Professor Howden suggests planting ground covers and shrubs, or growing a cottage garden.

“Increasingly there are some really great options. Walk around your suburbs and see where people have made those choices and how attractive they can be,” he said.

And if native grass and shrubs won’t work for your backyard, you could always lay down some bark or wood chip.

“You can just have bark chips like mulch over your earth, and that doesn’t heat up as much as artificial turf and does keep the ground healthy,” Assistant Professor Ting said.

Delhi HC scraps DDA’s plan to convert natural playgrounds into artificial turfs

By Richa Banka | 4th July 2023 | Hindustan Times | Click here to view article

The court said that DDA’s proposed plan would result in the destruction of a significant part of the open and naturally green area of the complex.

Stressing the need to protect the environment, the Delhi high court has scrapped the Delhi Development Authority (DDA)’s project to convert natural grass football and hockey grounds at Siri Fort Sports Complex (SFSC) into artificial synthetic grounds.

“The proposed plan is impermissible and illegal. Therefore, such conversion of laying of artificial turf will have to be abandoned by the DDA… The laying of artificial turf will be an irreversible damage to not only the football and hockey fields but to the contiguous green area and is likely to affect the people using the immediately adjacent walking path,” justice Najmi Waziri said.

Making its February 4, 2020 order of status quo on the laying of artificial grass as “absolute”, the court said that the football and hockey fields which presently have natural grass shall not be destroyed or altered to artificial turf.

The court said that DDA’s proposed plan would result in the destruction of a significant part of the open and naturally green area of the complex.

He said that while land may belong to individuals and land-owning agencies, the environment belongs to all humans, indeed to all living creatures and each living being needs to be protected from damaged ecology.

“The environment is much larger than a simple football or hockey field. In a city like Delhi, the ecology of small pockets of green areas, serving as lungs for the city especially amidst densely populated residential, commercial and industrial localities is crucial and fragile. Therefore, greater caution and sensitivity has to be exercised, lest an inexorable harm is set in motion which may continue to blight the city for generations to come,” the court said in a judgment of June 30 made available on Monday.

The judge said that development is not always the creation of roads, buildings, civic or industrial infrastructure and in the world of technology, travel and tearing hurry, development is also manifested in the retention of delicate ecology and green area of a neighbourhood, so as to maintain the environmental equilibrium for posterity.

Land-owning agencies hold land in trust for future generations, they need to exercise such care and caution. There can hardly be a case for this city being robbed of its green spaces in a few years only because in one project or the other, there is resultant concretisation of the earth. Today it is two sports fields; tomorrow it will be something else. The creeping concretisation, through seemingly innocuous projects, need to be examined from the prism of ecological balance,” the court said.

The court was dealing with a petition by a member of SFSC, Sudhir Gupta seeking to stop converting the natural grass football and hockey grounds in Siri Fort Sports Complex into artificial synthetic grounds by cutting the trees/bushes/shrubs, etc. and in the process damaging/destroying the biggest green patch also known as lungs of south Delhi.

The plea had said that without consulting the members, users and players of the complex, DDA has initiated the work of construction for artificial synthetic football and hockey grounds by destroying/damaging the greenest part of the entire complex which will involve in the process uprooting or cutting innumerable well grown trees all around the natural mud jogging track.

Senior advocate ML Lahoty for the petitioner had contended that besides the degradation of the soil and environment, a lot of good quality water would be wasted on a daily basis to cool the heat which is generated from the artificial turf, both on regular days and especially so on hot days and to keep the artificial turf soft and moist and playable.

He further said it is contrary to the international trend, including decisions of FIFA and FIH to shift from artificial turf to natural grass for playing football and hockey.

He had argued that synthetic tracks are popular mostly in European countries and in the USA where the climatic conditions are altogether different from India.

Contending that there is a trend of synthetic tracks, the DDA counsel had said that there are many organisations in various parts of the country where artificial turf has been laid and FIFA as an organisation proposes artificial turf worldwide.

He said that the artificial turf proposed to be laid would be of approved FIFA standards; that there are many advantages of the use of artificial turf over the natural turf which includes conservation of water, elimination of harmful pesticides, reduction of noxious emissions thus being environment friendly, ideal for inclement weather, lower risk of injuries to players due to evenness of surface and cost effectiveness; that the artificial turf to be installed at SFSC is meant for training purposes and not for holding any international competition, the turf is to be used throughout the year; the proposal to lay the artificial turf is for the benefit of sportspersons.

Agreeing with the contentions of advocate Lahoty, counsel for the petitioner, the court said that in the recent past three FIFA related football World-Cup events were held on natural grass and even the FIFA World Cup in 2022 at Qatar was played on turf grass (natural grass), no artificial turf was used at any of the eight stadiums or even at the training grounds.

Citing several international patterns, the court said that the temperature at Qatar and Delhi are similar during summer, and it is in keeping the suitability of turf grass, for football to be played in a high and humid environment and that the World Cup was played on natural grass.

The court said that “irrespective of ownership of the land, DDA will need to protect the green areas especially in a city where the ever burgeoning population and the concomitant increase in number of vehicles and dwelling units, adds to the environmental pressure and pollution”.

SFSC lies in the heart of South Delhi and the adjoining greenery needs to be protected at all costs, as the entire area is a green lung for the city. A park or a green area in the midst of a thickly populated residential area or commercial area is of a far greater value than a forest removed kilometres away from a human habitation,” it said.

The judge noted that the direction of the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT) to DDA and to “ensure that the entire complex is duly maintained” is of much significance and was for the purpose of protecting the greenery in the entire area.

A Non-Plastic Future for Community Ovals – Synthetic vs Natural Turf

Synthetic vs Natural Turf – Get the facts from the experts

On 23rd June 2023, the NTA presented a Community Forum on Natural vs Synthetic Turf. Leading Scientists and Community Leaders presented latest information on this debate to over 120 representatives of community groups throughout Sydney.

PURPOSE OF THE COMMUNITY FORUM 

  • To provide evidence-based information that upgrading sports fields with natural turf is the best choice for players, the environment, and the community.
  • To provide evidence of the environmental, health, and safety dangers of plastic turf.
  • Present the facts about how the processes used by the Ku-ring-gai Council to proceed with the construction of a synthetic turf field at Norman lacked proper environmental assessments and thorough community consultation.
  • Provide an opportunity to ask the scientists, experts, and community members questions.
  • Outline recommendations and suggest actions to ensure proper Governance.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE EVENT

CLICK HERE to read more about the Norman Griffiths Oval Development and Campaign

Synthetic turf fields ‘lack standards’, but no moratorium as chief scientist recommends more research

Report from ABC Radio | 20th June 2023

The New South Wales chief scientist has stopped short of recommending a moratorium on a common type of synthetic turf, despite finding little is known about its composition and environmental impact.

Key points:

  • There are more than 180 synthetic turf sports fields in NSW, a sharp increase from 24 in 2014 and 30 in 2018
  • Community groups have protested about the loss of green space and concerns about microplastics and heat
  • In his report, the chief scientist recommended NSW adopt an “accelerated learn and adapt approach”
  • There has been a six-fold increase in artificial turf replacing suburban grass sports fields in the past five years as sports clubs have embraced it as a reliable alternative.

But community groups have protested about the loss of green space and raised concerns about microplastics and heat, prompting the previous Coalition state government to ask the state’s chief scientist, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, to investigate.

His final report, quietly released earlier this month, found there were 181 synthetic turf sports fields in NSW, a sharp increase from 24 in 2014 and 30 in 2018.

Professor Durrant-Whyte has identified significant “knowledge gaps”, particularly when it comes to exactly what goes into commonly used rubber infill.

“There is insufficient information and a lack of standards about the materials and chemical composition of synthetic turf,” the review concluded.

The chief scientist acknowledged increased heat effects were a concern and raised doubts about the turf’s performance claims in Australia’s climate.

“It is not clear whether expectations about the longevity and carrying capacity of synthetic fields can be met under Australian climatic conditions, potentially influencing decisions about installation and cost-benefit considerations,” the report states.

The report also noted that improvements in natural turf management meant grass fields may allow for increased performance to meet demand.

Rather than follow overseas bans, the chief scientist recommended NSW instead adopt an “accelerated learn and adapt approach”.

With more artificial fields proposed across NSW, including a $10 million redevelopment of Tamplin Field in Hobartville in Sydney’s north-west and Westleigh Park near Hornsby, community groups had hoped he would recommend stronger action.

Hornsby Council plans to turn this area of Westleigh Park into three sports fields; two grass and one synthetic turf. (Supplied: Save Westleigh Park)

Convenor of Save Westleigh Park, Jan Primrose, said the recommended approach “risks leaving a legacy of environmental and health issues across Sydney’s open spaces”.

“The idea of using new fields as a testbed will simply exacerbate future problems by increasing the number of fields exponentially,” Ms Primrose said.

“Surely we’ve learnt the lessons that the legacy of PFAS contamination has left us with — a precautionary approach should prevail.”

Synthetic fields commonly have long blades supported by infill made from recycled tyres, called crumb rubber.

The European Union has banned this type of rubber infill due to concerns about microplastics ending up in waterways, giving the industry eight years to switch to alternatives such as cork and wood products.

Grant Humphreys, a director of Sports and Play Industry Association, said the chief scientist’s decision not to go down that path was a relief for the industry.

Mr Humphreys, who is a FIFA qualified sports field tester, said the EU ban would have flow on effects here anyway.

“We don’t actually manufacture any crumb rubber in Australia, it gets all imported, so we will have that issue with supplying it. We’ve gone to more of the cork, organic infills.”

Some councils are using a combination of synthetic turf and grass in public parks, but there is little data on how common it is. (

He called on the government to make standards, such as installing filters in drains, mandatory to prevent microplastics flowing into waterways.

He said the new fields had proved a “win win” for councils and sports clubs by allowing more teams to play and train, relieving pressure on grass fields.

The proliferation of synthetic turf highlights an underlying problem, according to associate professor in urban management and planning at Western Sydney university Dr Sebastian Pfautsh.

“It really goes back to urban planning principles — where we densify or expand our cities but we’re not at the same time providing the necessary green space for recreation and recreational activities for these growing populations,” he said.

“That leads to the problem that the existing sports fields or other facilities are being loved to death.”

Dr Pfautsch called for a halt on new synthetic turf fields being installed until further research is conducted.

He is particularly concerned about the increased heat generated by artificial turf after measuring temperatures of more than 80 degrees Celsius at surface level.

He pointed to the unsuitability of plans to install synthetic turf at Tamplin Field in Hobartville.

“It’s particularly detrimental to put a field like that into a space that’s naturally really hot,” Dr Pfautsch said.

“I can just foresee that during warmer days, and then the hot summers that you get out west, those facilities can’t be used.”

The state government has until September to respond to the report.